The arm-flailing shirt-pulling Premier Preview

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Moving house, your blogger has dug out a dog-eared copy of childhood staple Gary Lineker's Favourite Football Stories, complete with a smiling, considerably less grey Lineker and wackily animated bouncing footballs in place of any ‘o’s.

The first and probably last in a not-even-occasional series will ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't read John Goodwin’s coming-of-age classic Charlotte's Wanderers, but for anyone who has or never will, here's a touch of inspirational nostalgia for you. It's edutainment!

"I learned two things that afternoon at Park Grove – things I should have known all the time if I'd stopped to think about it.

"The first was that it's no good being a selfish player, setting out to win the match single-handed. Football is a team game and if you forget that you could end up doing a nosedive on the turf like I did.

"The second thing was to do with Charlotte – she was developing into a really good player. Soon she'll be playing in better teams than the Wanderers. Maybe she'll get a place in an England women's team. And what after that? The Premier Division? Once I would have thought that a ridiculous idea, but now I'm not so sure."

Sadly, attitudes towards women in the Prem remain the same, forcing Charlotte to change her name to Carlos and sign for Man City.


Birmingham vs Arsenal

Eduardo returns to the place where he was annihilated by Martin Taylor. Cue another completely accidental ‘horror tackle’ that has Wenger apopleptic with mindless rage.

Brum, meanwhile, need to stop the rot after defeats to fellow water-treaders Sunderland and Blackburn. It won’t start here.

What won’t happen: Wenger: “In retrospect, maybe I was wrong about Martin Taylor.”

What will happen: Away win.

Bolton vs Manchester United

Nani dearest has signed a four-year contract renewal with the Red Devils, which was slightly unexpected. Many thought the Portuguese winger was on his way out in the summer after a few loose words (and the fact that Valencia clearly offers more), but Sir Alec has decided he’s matured and wants to keep him on his books. Anderson... well, we’ll see.

Meanwhile, Ryan Giggs has suggested he might return for Wales, ostensibly to cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey but more likely because he fancies playing England in the World Cup qualifiers. Given the youth of Wales’ side these days, he’d probably double the average age.

What won’t happen: Giggs will return, but it won’t be the same (*sniff*).

What will happen: Gary ‘Blood clot’ Cahill will play for the first time in seven weeks, but he can’t stop a home defeat.

Chelsea vs Aston Villa

Bad news for the Blues: Ricardo Carvalho injured himself in the 5-0 thumping of Portsmouth, which is a bit like winning the lottery then dying of shock (kinda). He's out for a month.

Pompey fans would say it's karma: flying limbs from Florent Malouda and Daniel Sturridge meant a fractured cheekbone and a broken nose for Ricardo Rocha and Tommy Smith respectively, who failed to get out of arms' way. Neither Chelsea player was sent off, so expect a few boos – after all, clouting Portsmouth players is just kicking a team when they're down.

And down they will be in a matter of time. Even a miracle worker wouldn't fancy his chances with Portsmouth this year, especially when they're being so generous at the back – David James conceded a howler against Chelsea.

Still, it's nice that generosity is extending to the back room: James is said to be the leader of a group of players paying the wages of several members of staff who would otherwise have been sacked. One of these staff members: the players' masseur. You scratch my back, I’ll rub yours.

What won't happen: This wonderful spirit of charity to spread to other footballers on five- or six-figure weekly sums.

What will happen: Villa's difficult run (home draws with Wolves and Sunderland) continues/Villa's unbeaten run in the league this year (10 games, no defeats) comes to an end.

Hull vs Fulham

The less said about Hull's last-minute capitulation to Pompey the better, so that's some words saved. Iain Dowie probably found a few in the dressing room to make up the difference.

For Fulham, John Paintsil returns to training after three months campaigning for people to spell his name correctly. Even though he didn't succeed, expect a lap of honour.

Remember the name...

It must be so strange to be his team-mate when he does that. Walking back to the dressing room, chatting, bantering – "Hey, did you see Gary's face when I nutmegged him, John? John? Oh... bye then. "

Fulham's plucky FA Cup campaign came to an end despite every commentator in the land willing them on against Spurs. It's true they played superbly in the first half and deserve their amazing season, but it was like listening to God vs Satan or something. If the Cottagers reach the Europa League final, there'll be a serious danger of on-air orgasm.

What won't happen: Hopefully, a display of shirt-pulling quite as disgraceful as Bobby Zamora's in the second half, when Sebastian Bassong quite reasonably tried to belt his eyes out through the back of his head. Zamora was like a cruel five-year-old holding a cat by the tail, gleefully watching his attempts to escape.

What will happen: Fulham get back on track with a win to add to Dowie's despair.

Spurs vs Portsmouth

There's a lot being made of the FA semi-final showdown between 'Arry Redknapp and the sinking ship he had helmed, and here's the dress rehearsal.
Will Tottenham make it five league wins in a row? Will they somehow fail to finish fourth? Will Portsmouth win at White Hart Lane and begin the mother of all relegation comebacks?

Yes, yes, no.

What won't happen: 'Arry can't get away with bringing off a defender for a striker again, as he did against Fulham midweek. If Ćorluka doesn't pass a fitness test, Assou-Ekotto will have to move to right-back. Loaning out everybody may have seemed a good idea at the time, but right when they need depth, Spurs have gone from five fit strikers to two and three fit right-backs to zero.

What will happen: Nevertheless, they brush aside Pompey to strengthen that Champions League claim.

West Ham vs Stoke

Blimey, David Sullivan just won’t shut up, will he? In the space of just two days after West Ham’s defeat to Wolves, the Cockney pornster (as opposed to cocky porn star) made two brilliantly contradictory announcements.

First, there was the open letter slamming the performance, saying “Nobody should delude themselves that we are a good team” but pleading with the fans to have patience. The West Ham players were booed and treated to cries of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”, while Zola was on the end of “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” Sullivan’s reaction seemed to be, “Look, I know we were sh*t, but only I’m allowed to say so.”

Then, fearing he’d kicked a hornet’s nest, Sullivan insisted he was “very confident” the Hammers would stay up, although he again suggested they don’t deserve to.

If the response of Cap’n Upson is anything to go by, the players are ignoring their owner’s laments as the insane ramblings of a confused old man.

What won’t happen: David Gold steps in complete with bowler hat and moustache and berates Sullivan for being useless, completing the Laurel and Hardy image.

What will happen: In a dour game, West Ham fall to a sixth league defeat in a row.

Another fine mess, etc

Wolves vs Everton

There's probably never been a better time to be a Wolves fan this season. Oh, except when they held Liverpool to a draw. And when they beat Spurs. And when they beat Spurs again. Where were we?

Anyway, seven points from nine, including invaluable wins over relegation rivals West Ham and Burnley, has lifted the Midlands side seven points clear of the drop zone.

Everton, meanwhile, would be joint top of the league if the season began in 2010. That's one of those facts that doesn't really mean anything but makes everyone go "Oh" in the pub – some in interest, some in feigned interest and some in pain as the suicide pills kick in.

What won't happen: A home win. Since we're on the stats, Wolves are the only Premier League team this season to take fewer points at home than on the road. They've also scored only one goal in nearly ten hours of football at Molineux. Mick McCarthy's middle name is Joseph. Those pills slipping down all right?

What will happen: Everton storm to another away win.


Burnley vs Blackburn

The Cotton-Mill Derby, or Hotpot Derby for some ignorant southerners, comes at a crucial time for Burnley.

The Clarets almost took home a result against Wigan but an injury-time winner from Hugo Rodallega deprived them of a second – yes, second – point in 16 away games this season. Relying desperately on their home form, the Clarets need to stop the gap becoming a chasm.

Blackburn can sympathise, or would if they didn't prefer hating their Lancashire rivals. Rovers have notched up just six away points all season, fewer than any club bar Hull and Burnley.

But Big Sam is accentuating the positives, claiming they're "in the top four of the Premier League with home results". It's not true – they’re seventh – but hey, it sounds good. Lies, damned lies and statistics and all that.

Still, Rovers' impressive run continued with a 2-1 win over Birmingham in The Battle of the Mid-Table, not coming to a cinema near you. Headline writers had a field day ('Boy Dunn Good', 'Job Dunn', 'This Joke's Been Dunn') thanks to both goals coming from the Brum alumnus. Dunn scored in the fifth minute to fulfil this blog's prediction of an early Rovers goal, before ruining the fun by scoring the winner when we'd plumped for a draw. Bastard.

What won't happen: A nice, friendly atmosphere at Turf Moor.

What will happen:  Blackburn finally grab only their second away win of the season.

Liverpool vs Sunderland

Strip reproduced courtesy of - click to see more

Don't mention the beach ball. I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

What won't happen: Five minutes of the match to pass without a commentator mentioning the beach ball. Scratch that, five seconds.

What will happen: Extra security doesn't stop at least one Sunderland wag throwing a beach ball onto the pitch. Horrible draw for Liverpool.


Manchester City vs Wigan

The age-old who-would-win-in-a-fight-between-Mancini-and-Moyes almost yielded an answer as the Italian started a scuffle in trying to retrieve the ball. The pair were very mature after the game, but only once they’d hidden their handbags.

What won’t happen: Mancini vs Martinez – the Spaniard is too cool for that. A fight might ruffle his coat.

What will happen: Home win

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